Over the last weeks and months almost every day has brought a new headline. Hundreds drown in the Mediterranean, 70 suffocate to death inside a truck, Thousands stranded at Budapest train station. The media and the continent have woken up to the fact that Europe faces its largest refugee crisis since the Second World War, with thousands of people a day trying to claim asylum. This shouldn’t be a cause for panic though. Instead, European leaders need to take a look at the opportunities this crisis offers, and what can be achieved by accepting the refugees heading towards the EU. Continue reading
This week reports emerged that the Australian navy paid people smugglers to take their human cargo back to Indonesia. Three sailors arrested in Indonesia stated that when their boat was intercepted by the navy, they were paid 5000 USD each to turn around. Their story is backed up by migrants on the boat in question, interviewed by the UN, and the Indonesian government is investigating. Continue reading
With no real big news going on today, here are three stories and one amazing video that caught my eye this week.
This week the first refugees were sent from Australian detention camps to Cambodia, under an agreement between the two countries. The deal has been heavily criticised (including on this blog) for sending asylum seekers to one of the world’s poorest and most corrupt countries. This BBC article demonstrates the lengths that the Australian government has gone to to convince the refugees to go.
This well-written but harrowing article from the Boston Globe is the story of the toll years of abuse took on one boy, and the lengths he went to to prevent it happening again.
As Germany becomes more and more clearly the most influential country in Europe, it seems to some we’re entering a new era of German leadership. However, in many ways Germany is still a state reluctant to lead – or be seen leading.
This short video about the casualties of WWII is the perfect example of what you can do with data. The authors don’t only beautifully visualise the cost of the war, but put everything in context, helping you to understand exactly what you’re looking at. It ends on a positive note as well – the decreasing level of conflict since WWII.
Stranded at sea
It’s become a bit of a journalistic cliche to start articles on the Rohingya by saying “they’ve been described as the world’s least wanted people”, but the title is definitely accurate. Their plight has been in the headlines this week, as thousands of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar are stranded in the Andaman sea off Thailand. Abandoned on cargo ships by people smugglers, the Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian navies have been pushing them back and forth in an argument over who should have to deal with them. Continue reading
While I’ve written about Australia’s policy towards asylum seekers before, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of coming back to it. It’s the thing that frustrates me the most about my passport country, and it taps into a nasty undercurrent of xenophobia in Australian society. This policy of exclusion towards asylum seekers seems to be personified at the moment by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott – a man who seems to be an endless cycle of gaffes and plain awful comments. So just how bad is his record on this issue? Continue reading
A few months ago I was studying Arabic in the train when the man next to me asked about my textbook. It turned out he was from the tiny African nation of Eritrea, and he spoke a Sudanese variety of Arabic. After trying out a few words, the conversation turned to how he came to be in the Netherlands. It turned out he had fled the incredibly oppressive regime in Eritrea, and taken an incredible journey through the Sahara desert across Sudan and war torn Libya. In Tripoli he got on a crowded boat to cross the Mediterranean, before landing on a beach in Italy. From there he went overland to the Netherlands, looking for a country that was more open to refugees. Here he managed to gain asylum, and now has a job and is learning Dutch.
300 people just like him drowned this week in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
An extra post today, on a story that hasn’t made the news in a big way, but one that I just can’t get over. The Australian government has made an agreement with the Cambodian government to resettle refugees in Cambodia. These refugees are people who arrived in Australian waters by boat, were detained, and then found to have a genuine claim to asylum. Instead of being allowed to enter Australia, because they arrived by boat they are being sent to Cambodia. Let’s take a look at Cambodia.
Firstly, I have nothing against Cambodia. I spent some time there while backpacking, and loved it. It’s a great country with amazingly friendly and open people. However – it is a Third World country. It is poor, with one of the lowest annual incomes in the world. It is corrupt, ranked 15th worst in the world. It lacks freedom and struggles to feed its own population, being ranked as one of the worst in the world for HDI and hunger. Unemployment is high and many young Cambodians struggle to find jobs. Less than 40 years ago it suffered one of the worst genocides in history, one that was preceded and followed by years of horrific war. The country still bears the scars – on the landscape and on the culture – today.
It’s also a country that’s not known for treating refugees well. They have deported refugees numerous times, including Uighurs from China who were being protected by the UN’s refugee agency. Refugees are not wanted by the majority of the population either. The decision has been greeted with protests in Cambodia by people who don’t want even more competition for meagre resources and jobs. Note that this is the same argument some Australians will make – from a country 42 times larger and 16 times richer than Cambodia. Guess in which of these countries I’ve seen the bumper sticker “F**k off, we’re full”.
Australia will be responsible for the cost of health insurance that is “commensurate” with local community standards for five years. Most Cambodians do not have health insurance. (Lindsay Murdoch, SMH)
To sweeten the deal for the Cambodia government, Australia will pay them 40 million US dollars, on top of resettlement costs. In what is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, where exactly does the Australian government think this 40 million is going to go? It’s unlikely it will do much to benefit the people of the country who never agreed to the deal in the first place. To make the deal even dirtier, it has been carried out in secrecy with no room for debate.
UNICEF, Amnesty International and other groups have labelled the deal “inappropriate, immoral, and likely illegal” – and that describes it perfectly. As an Australian I am deeply ashamed that my country is doing this. It enrages me that no vote I cast can change this – as the opposition Labor party made similar plans. But that isn’t surprising when 60% of Australians polled said that they wanted refugees treated more harshly. We are one of the world’s richest countries handing some of the world’s most vulnerable people to one of the world’s poorest nations.
Oh, the refugees don’t have to go to Cambodia though – they could also remain in their detention camps on the tiny, hot, barren and bankrupt Pacific island of Nauru. They’ll be glad to hear it.
For more on Australia’s asylum seekers policy, see this post from earlier this year.